Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Think Like a Food Marketer to Get Your Kids to Eat Better


March is National Nutrition Month with this year’s theme “Eat Right with Color.” It may be easy to put those colors on the plate, but getting your kids to eat those fruits and vegetables requires some creative thinking for parents to conquer the “white food diet.” Ali and will be posting a lot here and a few other surprise places this month. One of the many topics we will cover is getting kids to eat their vegetables! Let's celebrate a month of healthy eating together!

Do the foods your kids prefer most belong to the “beige and bland” food group? You could be dealing with neophobia – or the fear of new foods. To parents’ dismay, this curious behavior peaks in early childhood about the same time as other battles for control.

This aversion to colored or new foods is something food manufacturers leverage along with appealing to kids’ preferences for starchy, sweet, salty and fatty foods. No surprise, nuggets, fries and mac-n-cheese are the cornerstones of the multi-billion-dollar “kid food” business.

Wait. If kids fear colorful food like vegetables and fruits, what’s with the bright orange cheese puffs, neon-blue candy and electric red “fruit” snacks and “juice?”

What do food marketers know that we parents are missing?

While the last thing I want to do is fight with my kid over food, I sure do feel like I do battle against food marketing every day. As Sun Tzu writes in The Art of War, “… the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”

Here’s how to think like a food marketer at home to get your kids to eat their colors:

Their stuff comes in shapes and presentations with kid-appeal.

While we don’t have licensed characters and packaging at home, we can be creative:

• Use cookie cutters to make star-shaped cutouts of peppers and other veggies to serve with dip.

• Give kids cut up fruit and veggies to make a “salad face.”

• Use a fun lunch box to make healthy lunches feel “special.”

• Give the dish a fun name that includes some type of superpower or princess reference.

Food manufacturers have set the menu.

You can’t just serve broccoli one day and have it work. Start your new menu out first with these healthier versions of “kid food” then add new foods as your child’s diet adjusts:

• Nuggets made with actual chicken (recipe page 199 in The Cleaner Plate Club)

• Turkey burgers or Meatloaf Florentine that incorporates vegetables in the ground meat (recipe page 211 in the book)

• Pizza with wholegrain crust and rich tomato sauce but less cheese, or Pizza Soup (recipe page 186).

Their food is loaded with fat, salt and sugar.

I would never recommend this approach for home even if it’s a sugar-coated, fried green bean. But Ali and I have found that a “[tea]spoonful of sugar,” or even a light dusting of cheese does make the carrots or greens go down when kids are used to these tastes.

One of the best examples of a this approach to vegetables is the carrot orange soufflĂ© (page 135). It is a bit sweet, brightly colored, and very much comfort food — made with a vegetable. You can serve it in a princess bowl, or top it with a raisin smiley face and call it “Magic Super-Vision Fluff.” It’s still carrots.

Do you have a favorite "marketing" technique to get your kids to eat their colors? Tell us!

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